Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) has around 100 miles of navigable canals which were built as trade routes in the 18th century. The canals would have carried all types of goods from coal and raw clay, to finished dinnerware and crystal. In due course rail and road links won the day for commercial transport, and the canals fell in to disrepair. Over the last thirty years though much of the network has been cleaned up and there has been great transformations of areas centred around the canal network – notably Gas Street Basin, Brindley Place and The Mailbox. There are a few canal based attractions based in Brum now – you can take a pleasure cruise in the day, or a party boat in the evening, or pick up a boat for a week’s holiday. Or like we did, you can go for lunch or dinner on “Away 2 Dine”, a specially converted narrow boat.
We went on a Sunday lunch cruise with my parents. Naturally, hic, the first thing we did was order wine – a bottle of Rioja at £18, which was delivered with the instruction to let it warm up as the storage in the boat is cold! Despite it being a chilly autumnal day the narrow boat was toasty warm, I wasn’t sure if it would be so we’d really wrapped up, consequently I was baking hot. For starter I had a tomato, mozzarella, and basil salad – it was tasty and plentiful. We also ordered the soup (which was served in a comically large rocking-boat-proof bowl).
It’s worth noting that they’re called “narrow” boats for a reason. They’re narrow. If you’re someone who needs a lot of space while you’re eating, or has trouble with navigating small spaces then it’s probably not for you. There are also a few steep steps in to the boat, and I’d be nervous of taking anyone down them who isn’t very mobile. The toilets are comically small, I had to stand at 45 degrees to the loo to pee, my shoulders being too wide to fit normally. All that said, we had a comfortable trip! Honestly, unless you really have mobility issues, you’ll be fine.
For mains we all ordered the beef, predictably as it was Sunday lunch. It came with gravy, crisp roast potatoes, veg, and a Yorkshire pudding. It wasn’t the best beef I’ve ever had but I’ve certainly had a lot worse at some of the more landlocked establishments. The roast potatoes and other accompaniments were very nice. For desserts I ordered apple crumble and custard, and we also had an orange and chocolate mousse. Both were delicious. The crumble had a Christmassy flavour with spice and sultanas. The rich dark mousse was served in a brandy snap basket, I always get pudding envy and I have to say that although the crumble was nice, the mousse was delicious!
The view from the boat, if not always picturesque was certainly interesting, and it does give you an overview of some of Birmingham’s features – canal side living, its industrial past. It was a different and leisurely way to spend a lunch catching up with my parents, and I’d definitely recommend it.
The 3 course lunch cruises are around the £35 mark, and dinner cruises, which have an extra 2 courses (a sorbet, and a cheese course), will set you back around £50 a head. On a cold Sunday afternoon it was completely full, you should definitely book to avoid disappointment!
We really enjoyed it, as did my parents, I think it’s a lovely idea for a gentle celebration i.e. if you don’t want a massively loud and boozy night out. It would also be good for a date as it’s an atmosphere conducive to chatting – not a first date though, once you’ve set sail there’s no running off if it doesn’t go well!